Ottawa·Audio

Military mulls 'option' of independent sexual misconduct centre

A sexual assault centre director and the Canadian Forces major general in charge of dealing with sexual misconduct in the military share their thoughts about creating an independent, third-party organization to handle complaints.

'Knee-jerk solutions' to report on sexual misconduct in military won't work, says Maj.-Gen. Chris Whitecross

The Canadian Forces major general in charge of dealing with sexual misconduct in the military says the idea of an independent organization to deal with complaints is an option being looked at "very closely," but there are other models to be looked at as well and "knee-jerk solutions won't work."

CBC Ottawa Morning host Robyn Bresnahan interviewed Maj.-Gen. Christine Whitecross's Friday, a day after a scathing external report from retired Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps found that harassment is tolerated by military leadership.

Creating an independent organization where victims can seek support and advice was one of 10 recommendations made in Deschamps's report.

The military accepted the recommendation "in principle," along with seven others. Two recommendations were accepted outright.

Whitecross told Bresnahan that before the military could accept an independent complaints body, it needs to learn more about how such an organization might work in Canada.

On mobile? Listen to the entire interview with Maj.-Gen. Christine Whitecross, who is leading the Canadian Forces strategic response team on sexual misconduct.

Whitecross (CW): "We certainly accept all of her recommendations, the last eight, as you implied, we accept in principle. But [that's] not because we don't agree with them. In fact we do, very much, want to carry out the intent of all of her recommendations. But we really need to learn a little bit more about how we can actually implement them in a Canadian context."

Bresnahan (RB): How important do you think [an independent centre] is?

CW: "It is absolutely essential that we provide the victims with the support that they need. Certainly we need, in the final analysis, we need victims who are confident that the chain of command will take their concerns, their complaints and their needs very seriously. And many do. But we need to make sure that the chain of command is accountable for the men and women under their command, and that they can address these issues in a very compassionate and compelling way."

RB: But the problem really is though that most of the victims are not going up the chain of command because they're afraid for their own jobs and the impact it will have on them. So if they had an independent centre to go to, where they wouldn't feel like they're going to get sacked ... surely that is a better way to go forward? 

CW: "The idea of an independent centre is an option that we're really looking very closely at, and very early in the process. I would just like to say that Australia, the United States and France, we mentioned already, the United States ... centre is headed by a military two-star. There are other models across Canada that we need to look at, but the focus right now is putting in place the right structures for our Canadian Forces members, and quick fixes or knee-jerk solutions won't work. We need something that's enduring and works within the Canadian context. And I suspect an independent centre will be a very strong option that we're going to bring forward in a very short order."

On Friday Bresnahan also interviewed JoAnne Brooks, the director of the Women's Sexual Assault Centre of Renfrew County.

Brooks said she doubts the military will fully accept the recommendation of an independent centre.

On mobile? Listen to the entire interview with JoAnne Brooks, director of the Women's Sexual Assault Centre of Renfrew County.

"It was interesting because it sounds like the military may be not accepting the recommendation because there were lots of words like 'in principle,' and 'doing research,' Brooks said.

"But imagine if you were sexually violated. I kind of liken it to incest within a family. If you've experienced sexual assault within your home unit by another member, and then you have to report to your dad about it, and your dad says he'll take care of it but we're not going to talk about this outside of the family, ... for the survivor it doesn't seem as if it's that meaningful."

"There's a great deal of concern ... that women who do come forward, their careers may be in jeopardy; that they're seen as being troublemakers, that they're going outside of the family to speak out, and it's a big fear. ... Sometimes women just want a place to be witnessed and to be heard about what's happened."

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